SAN DIEGO — The AFC West is widely considered the toughest division in pro football, and you won't get any argument from the Chargers.
They have lost 11 straight games to AFC West opponents, going back to Dec. 11, 1983. On that date they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-38.
The Chargers--winless in two meetings with AFC West teams this year--try to put things right today against a Kansas City team viewed by many as one of, if not the most potent in the division.
Quarterback Bill Kenney said he expects the Chiefs to have a "very good" opportunity to reach the playoffs.
"It's going to be a tight race," he said, "and I really don't see a dominant team."
Coach John Mackovic, without predicting a playoff berth, knows the import of divisional games.
"I just hope we don't beat ourselves to death playing each other," he said. "Our games in the West are bruising, tough games, and our division is such that a lot of teams are going to play well."
The Chargers, bruised and then some by AFC West competition, aren't viewed as contenders except possibly by Coach Don Coryell, who isn't discounting his team's chances even though quarterback Dan Fouts will be idle for at least a couple of more weeks.
The San Diego offense is very much in a state of flux. Fouts, sidelined two weeks ago with a knee injury, has been replaced by Mark Herrmann, who threw for 344 yards last Sunday but was also intercepted three times.
Mackovic is one of Herrmann's more outspoken boosters.
"I coached him in college (Purdue)," he said. "I think he's a fabulous person, a great leader, intelligent and a winner. He has great accuracy with the football. Even without Fouts, their offense is still very much in place, and I'm sure Mark understands the system well."
The receiving corps is also up in the air, so to speak. Wes Chandler, the most effective receiver with 27 catches for 489 yards, was hurt Thursday. He was officially listed as very questionable for the game and there is virtually no chance he will play.
Chandler was taking part in a one-on-one drill after practice when the back of his foot was stepped on. If he is unable to play, the Chargers will look to Trumaine Johnson, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury and has caught only one pass. But Johnson is nearly recovered, and this could be the week when he assumes a more visible role in the offense.
Definitely out is tight end Kellen Winslow. Coach Don Coryell said early in the week Winslow might return today after being crippled for nearly a year with a severe knee injury, but the Chargers did not activate him for the game.
Winslow has been running well in practice and has been pronounced fit by doctors and trainers. There is still some question, however, if he is comfortable within himself about coming back next week or even this season.
Coryell said he would never force any player to play if he were not completely fit, and Winslow has given no indication of his attitude.
Meanwhile, Coryell is hoping for bigger returns from the San Diego ground game, which boasts newcomer Gary Anderson and a trio of capable runners in Tim Spencer, Lionel James and Buford McGee.
Coryell was unhappy with the paltry rushing total of 40 yards produced by this group in last week's 26-21 loss at Seattle. He assigned no small portion of the blame to poor blocking by the offensive line.
Anderson, who has nearly two weeks of practice behind him now, is capable of running 20 times per game, Coryell indicated. If he handles the ball that frequently, he's a good bet to better the 15 rushing yards he managed in his NFL debut last Sunday.
The Chief offense, featuring Kenney and a quartet of fast receivers, has taken its place alongside Air Coryell as one of the premier passing systems in the National Football League. However, the Kansas City offensive line has been wracked by injuries and will have at least one new starter, tackle John Alt.
"If our line has a good game, we'll probably win," Kenney said. "Like any quarterback, I need good protection. When we lost to Miami, I had a bad game. Last week against the Raiders, it was the line. The Raiders just overpowered us.
"I know this. If the Chargers get a rush on us, we won't get the ball downfield."
The Chargers, under new defensive coordinator Dave Adolph, are endeavoring to improve their pass rush by using linebackers to complement the front three.